Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church
Palm Bay, Florida (FL Today) -- A controversial church group that won a case in the Supreme Court allowing it to continue protesting outside military funerals announced it will picket at the service for Spc. Justin L. Horsley on Wednesday.
The Palm Bay soldier died in Afghanistan on July 22 when enemy forces attacked his unit during a patrol.
Westboro Baptist Church put out a news release announcing it will come to the funeral on Malabar Road to preach the message that, "Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy."
The son of the pastor the Topeka, Kan., church, explained his church's message that God hates America for its loose morals.
"You can't go around killing millions of babies and flaunting God's law about homosexuals and not expect to get punished in a big way," said Fred Phelps Jr. "We're simply using this public forum to convey our message."
"As my dad likes to say, 'It's our job, man,' " Phelps said.
The release says Horsley gave his life to protect constitutional rights to free speech and ends with, "These soldiers are dying for the homosexual and other sins of America. ... Thank God for IEDs."
Horsley and Pfc. Brenden N. Salazar, 20, of Chuluota, died of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. Both were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy. The church also put out a release that it planned to preach outside the funeral of Salazar this morning in Winter Springs.
"We want to prevent it from happening or have people in the community protect them," said Kelsey Gentry, whose husband served with Horsley and Salazar. "It's extraordinarily confusing. Why would you do this to someone you don't even know?
"I would give anything to protect Justin's family from going through this," she said.
The church's website announces the time, date and location of many service members' funeral services.
Horsley's stepfather, Nicholas Kietzmann Jr., said the family had never before heard of the Westboro Baptist Church.
"We'll probably ignore such things," he said.
He said the family is appreciative of the support he has been told will be shown from veterans groups and residents in Brevard County when his stepson's body is expected to be returned home Saturday.
"We are very grateful for that," Kietzmann said. "From that point forward, it will be a private event for family and friends."
The church was founded in 1955 by Pastor Fred Phelps, who is still active. Members refer to themselves as a Baptist church that supports the doctrines of John Calvin, according to their website.
Despite being considered detestable by most people, the church's speech has been deemed protected in a Supreme Court ruling last year. The court ruled the First Amendment protected the church's anti-gay protests outside military funerals.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in that 8-1 ruling: "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
A bill that would restrict protests of military funerals has been passed through Congress and is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.
Under the "Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," it would be illegal to protest within 300 feet of military funerals two hours before or after the services.
Phelps said he has been an attorney for 35 years, working on discrimination and civil rights cases. "We'll see what happens, but we're already making preliminary plans to file an action in federal court on that law, assuming that Obama signs it," Phelps said.